Americans are afraid of many things. They’re afraid of violent crime and shootings. They worry about being robbed when they go out alone at night. In many cases, these fears are not necessarily based in reality. As many criminologists will tell you, the crime rate in the United States has been falling rapidly for decades, and in some ways the country is safer than any time since the 1960s.
But most recently, a large number of Americans have begun to develop serious fears of identity theft. And this happens to be one crime where the statistics do, in fact, justify the worry.
A recent study conducted by Chapman University found that becoming a victim of identity theft is one of the top five fears shared by poll respondents. Another survey by Bankrate.com found that 77 percent of Americans are worried about having their identities stolen.
They have good reason to be afraid. Identity theft can have severe consequences for a victim’s credit score and personal finances. It can take years to recover from this crime, and it occurs every day in the U.S. The Identity Theft Resource Center estimates that there were more than 10 million cases of personal record exposure in 2014 — a 20 percent increase over the previous year. Any one of these incidents could have led to a case of identity theft.
And yet, despite their fear, Americans have a problem: they aren’t doing enough to reduce their risk of becoming victims.
A Nationwide Insurance survey recently made a troubling find. Nearly half of the respondents said that if their identity was stolen that day, they did not know if they would have had enough money to manage the recovery process. Even worse, 10 percent of the respondents said that they had already missed bill payments after their identity was stolen. Some saw their credit downgraded. Others had their homes foreclosed and were forced to declare bankruptcy.
It’s important to be proactive now before it is too late. Here are some simple steps that can reduce your risk of identity theft:
- Be careful what you post online: Everyone seems to shop online these days, and many people are regularly on social media. As a result, a lot of our personal information is floating around, where anyone could grab it. Before you k now it, identity thieves could be taking advantage of your online activity.
- Shred everything: You’d be surprised how much thieves can uncover when they go dumpster diving. Make sure any important financial documents are shredded thoroughly before you throw them away.
- Keep fewer credit cards: It’s hard enough to keep track of your usage on one card. The more cards you have, the greater the chance is that someone will steal its information without your knowledge.
Finally, be sure to invest in a credit monitoring service, which can notify you of certain activity that may indicate fraud. This can give you much-needed peace of mind, allowing you to rest assured that you’re taking important measures to safeguard your identity.